Almost a year to the day and here we are in London again, this time for good. Grounded. For the immediate future at least. We were back in January for a couple of weeks and then we were off again, this time to pay a visit to family and friends in Zimbabwe.
The plan to visit Zimbabwe was hatched late one night in a small room in Sala Thai, our humble but clean accommodation in Bangkok. It was a room about the size of a young child's shoe box with one window that overlooked a nondescript concrete wall. I miss it though, with it's ubiquitous and abundant street food and markets nearby. We were chatting about this and that and mostly about what we had been missing whilst we were away. For some people we talked to along the way, it was cheese, others, having a cupboard and some, shock horror, it was family. We fell into this last category and Nipun was quick to convince me that it was time to go back home before we started work again and had limited leave. After all, a twelve month trip like we have just done equates very roughly to twelve years worth of annual leave. We are not likely to have that opportunity very often. So a plan was hatched. In essence it was to arrive in Harare without telling my mum. She would then pop over to see my brother for an impromptu breakfast and discover us there, waiting laden with tales and gifts. A brilliant idea at the time, but then my mum is a septuagenarian and the hearts in our family are about as reliable as Skoda's.
Our flight therefore was quite an anxious one. "I really hope my brother has a stethoscope" was one thought that cropped up along the way. Air Zimbabwe was not big on in-flight diversions either. At the front of the plane, replacing the old projector screen, was a picture of Victoria Falls. The old joke on Youtube came to mind, "We are sorry there are no movies on the flight, somebody at head office forgot to press record on the VHS last night." I jokingly asked the flight attendant what was lined up for the evening. "Tonight, my friend, you will have a live performance" he laughed. It turned out that this performance consisted of being served dinner, with the encore taking the form of teas and coffees. Having said that though the flight was brilliant and half the price of flying to Harare via South Africa. The staff were an absolute hoot and the food was good and the drink plentiful.
Upon arriving we were met by my brothers who whisked us back home and everything went more or less according to plan. My mum arrived and my little niece spilt the beans ever so slightly by making mention of Aunty Nipun (of which you'll be surprised to know there are not that many), but this was probably a good thing. My mum came running onto the verandah, blue eyes agog and with a smile more radiant than the sun. It was a very special moment. And from there on it seems that the clock was ticking. The time flew. During our stay we made it as far as Lake Chivero (an hour outside town) and Nyanga (the Eastern Highlands which lie about three hours away from Harare). It is pathetic and sad to say but our plans to get to Victoria Falls, Mana Pools and Lake Kariba came to naught. We stayed more or less entirely in Harare. It was family time, and it was entirely worth it.
In terms of observations of Harare, it is much changed yet exactly the same since the last time I went back. For example upon arriving we followed a police car with one brake light and a shattered windscreen down a pot holed road from the airport. The officer driving looked like a competent bully but as physically fit as a pie eating competitor. So, the police remain to be incompetent ogres and there are no improvements there then. The changes though were a little more profound. The currency is entirely based in US dollars, which seems unusual for a country which has US Sanctions imposed on it. As a result of the dollarisation the shops are full of everything that you could hope for. Two years ago you couldn't buy a loaf of bread, now you can choose from half dozen types. It has also become an expensive place to live. It seems that most Zimbabweans do not have much concept of how much a dollar is actually worth. To get my mum hooked up with broadband for example, there was a US$1100.00 set up fee. We stayed with dial up after that bit of information. On the back of this information came the news that civil servants and domestic helpers earn about $100.00 a month. So no changes there either, the rich are doing well and the poor earn next to nothing. But then in context a lot more than they did two or three years ago. Perhaps my most poignant observation was how beautiful Zimbabwe is. Living in the UK I am always quick to point out how stunning our country is. Once you leave though the words become a little hollow, after all every country has it's respective merits. Being back there and having spent a year travelling through Asia I realised how much truth there is in those words though. A seemingly massive stash of diamonds has just been discovered in Zimbabwe which ironically is maybe one of the worst things that could happen at this stage. The discovery suggests corruption, army and police brutalization and political regression. I hope I am wrong.
For all of the trials and tribulations back home we were sad to leave. And for now at least, the party's over. I am currently going through something like 50 DVD's of camera raw files looking at and compiling some of the images that we captured along the way. I am on India at the moment and reliving our time in that massive and diverse country. Thank the heavens above for Lightroom. The selected images from each country will make there way into a book of some sort at some stage. But for now, thanks for following our travels and take it easy. We know you will.